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Effects of grassland species on decomposition of litter and soil microbial communities


Decomposition of litter is greatly influenced not only by its chemical composition but also by activities of soil decomposers. By using leaf litter from 15 plant species collected from semi-natural and improved grasslands, we examined (1) how interspecific differences in the chemical composition of litter influence the abundance and composition of soil bacterial and fungal communities and (2) how such changes in microbial communities are related to the processes of decomposition. The litter from each species was incubated in soil of a standard composition for 60 days under controlled conditions. After incubation, the structure of bacterial and fungal communities in the soil was examined using phospholipid fatty-acid analysis and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis. Species from improved grasslands had significantly higher rates of nitrogen mineralization and decomposition than those from semi-natural grasslands because the former were richer in nitrogen. Litter from improved grasslands was also richer in Gram-positive bacteria, whereas that from semi-natural grasslands was richer in actinomycetes and fungi. Nitrogen content of litter also influenced the composition of the fungal community. Changes in the composition of both bacterial and fungal communities were closely related to the rate of litter decomposition. These results suggest that plant species greatly influence litter decomposition not only through influencing the quality of substrate but also through changing the composition of soil microbial communities.

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The authors are thankful to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan, for financial assistance in conducting this research.

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Correspondence to Shu-ichi Sugiyama.

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Hossain, M.Z., Okubo, A. & Sugiyama, S. Effects of grassland species on decomposition of litter and soil microbial communities. Ecol Res 25, 255–261 (2010).

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  • Decomposition
  • Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE)
  • Litter chemistry
  • Microbial community
  • Phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA)